Health and Nutrition

Food Allergies

Hosting a dinner party for someone with a food allergy or intolerance?
Consider these tips to ensure a safe and pleasant dining experience!

Before creating a menu or shopping for food ingredients, ask your guest(s) for a complete list of any food allergies.

Did you know…
Severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis occur when the body's immune system strongly reacts to a particular allergen. These reactions may be caused by food, insect stings and medications.

Priority Allergens
The key ingredients or foods most often linked with severe food allergies and allergic-type reactions are called priority allergens. Priority allergens include:

  • crustaceans and mollusks, such as lobster, shrimp and scallops
  • fish
  • eggs
  • milk
  • mustard
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts)
  • sesame seeds
  • soy
  • sulphites
    -  a group of food additives that can be found in dried fruits such as raisins and other foods
    -  do not cause true allergic reactions but are listed here because sulphite-sensitive individuals may react to sulphites with allergy-like symptoms
  • wheat or triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye grains)

Your guest may react to foods not on this list. Ask for a complete list of allergies.

When shopping or selecting ingredients, read food labels:

  • For example if your guest is allergic to milk, avoid all food and products that contain milk and any product whose label carries a precautionary statement warning that the product might have milk in it such as “may contain” milk or similar wording. When provided by a manufacturer, precautionary statements are usually found after the list of ingredients or "Contains" statement if there is one. By December 2021 any precautionary statements will have to appear in this location only.
  • If a priority allergen is part of the product formulation, it must be declared in the list of ingredients or in a separate “contains” statement immediately following the list of ingredients.
  • Avoid any packaged food product that does not have an ingredient list.
  • Read labels every time you shop. Manufacturers may occasionally change their recipes or use different ingredients for varieties of the same product.

When selecting and preparing food, watch out for allergen cross-contamination!

Cross-contamination is the accidental transfer of an ingredient (a food allergen) to a product that does not normally have that ingredient in it. Through cross-contamination, a food that should not contain the allergen could become dangerous to eat for those who are allergic.

Cross-contamination can happen:

  • during food manufacturing through shared production and packaging equipment
  • at retail through shared equipment
  • cheese and deli meats sliced on the same slicer
  • through bulk display of food products, like peanuts and tree nuts or baked goods
  • during food preparation at home, daycares, schools or in restaurants through
  • equipment, counters or other surfaces, utensils and hands

Did you know…

What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

Food allergies are different than food intolerances.

  • Food allergies involve the immune system.
  • Food intolerances usually involve the digestive system.

A person with a food allergy has an immune response to a protein in a food. Even eating a very small amount of the food can potentially cause a life-threatening reaction. People with food allergies are diagnosed by an allergist (a doctor who specializes in allergies). The allergist prescribes an epinephrine auto-injector in case of a severe allergic reaction. Nobody knows what causes people to develop food allergies, and there is no known cure. The best way to stay safe is to totally avoid the food that triggers allergic reactions and to always carry an epinephrine auto-injector.

A person with a food intolerance usually has difficulty digesting a certain type of food.  Symptoms can include intestinal gas, painful abdominal cramping or diarrhea. A common food intolerance is lactose intolerance.  People with lactose intolerance have low levels of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the milk sugar lactose.  This is why people with lactose intolerance need to avoid dairy products that contain lactose.

Food Allergies
(external link: Health Canada)

back to top